Can you explain the background of the KRG’s “Good Governance and Transparency Strategy” [GGTS]?
In July 2009, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani announced a comprehensive anti-corruption and transparency strategy. In his words, the goal of the program was, “to improve international and domestic confidence and increase investment and job development, while helping to raise living standards in our Region.” This strategy is founded on four key principles that we have deemed central to improving governance: the rule of law, the idea that public service is a public trust, transparency in governmental functions, and the notion that public funds must always be used for their intended purposes. All of this information is public, of course, and is available on the Office of Governance and Integrity [OGI] website. It was widely distributed both locally and amongst the international community as well. The strategy was fully funded by the KRG, and it is based on leading international standards and practices, particularly, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). It was designed to bring the Kurdistan Region closer to the global community with which we are working to safeguard integrity and improve transparency.

What major achievements have been made in terms of good governance and transparency?
The key objective of the strategy was to have a government that is responsible, transparent, and accountable for its actions. We want a government that will spare no effort in order to serve the people in the best approach possible. The strategy is a multi-year effort. We have come a long way in the past few years and have faced multiple challenges. However, we still have plenty to do. Nevertheless, we are in a better position today than we were a few years ago. This improvement is obvious in terms of the increased investment and steady progress that the Region has made. The safety and security, the investment law, and the progress made in the oil and gas sector were all contributing factors to these advancements as well.

We have been working closely with Members of Parliament, NGO’s, and the international community, particularly the World Bank and UNDP, to follow through with the implementation of the strategy. Progress has been made in areas relating to budget transparency and oil and gas transparency. The Law for the Commission on Integrity was passed and will be a great support for the good governance efforts in the Region.

The Code of Conduct was another positive step that we are all quite proud of. The code demonstrates the KRG’s commitment to governance, integrity, and transparency. This step showed that the KRG joined governments around the world in establishing leading practices of accountability.

In terms of the GGTS Timeline, how far along is the KRG at this point? What are the plans for the future and what have been the major obstacles over the past 4 years?
We need to understand that corruption is not simply an issue of government, but rather an issue of society and the private sector as well. It affects us all and holds back our progress towards a better future. So, this awareness takes time: it’s a process. However, we have been making steady progress and the priorities have now slightly changed. For example, Oil and Gas Transparency has been brought forward, whereas the review of the Penal Code is yet to come. We have been discussing these issues with Members of Parliament and other legal experts. However, there are many new laws pending and others that are currently being amended, so we were advised to wait for the time being. Other areas, such as public procurement modernization, have progressed significantly. This is a key development, as the laws for public procurements in both Iraq and the Kurdistan Region are out-of-date. The OGI initiated this request and now a committee within the Council of Ministers is working on the issue.

The strategy prioritizes “setting integrity standards for private sector entities doing business within the government”. To what specific areas of the private sector does that apply and how are those standards being implemented?
This was intended for major contracts, particularly in public procurement and construction projects. However, we found that this was a highly technical element of the strategy. As such, we’ve determined that we need to modernize the law before being able to implement this particular element. Eventually, this “contractor integrity incentive” will be applicable across all sectors. The key message that we are trying to convey is that the KRG will only do business with reputable companies that have high integrity standards and are ethical and transparent in their conduct.

There is also a provision within the GGTS for the creation of a Code of Conduct for all KRG officials. What does that Code of Conduct entail?
The Code of Conduct was another positive step that we are all quite proud of. The code demonstrates the KRG’s commitment to governance, integrity, and transparency. This step showed that the KRG joined governments around the world in establishing leading practices of accountability. These steps will not only enhance the quality of governance, but also create investor confidence and raise the international standing of the Region. These are key factors in increasing investment, growth, and employment opportunities for all of our citizens. The Code of Conduct clearly states that KRG officials are required to conduct themselves with the highest degree of integrity and ensure that their official duties are free from conflicts of interest. Currently, we are in the process of reviewing the code to make it more user friendly and easy to implement.

Can you explain the significance of the Kurdistan Region being included in the most recent Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [EITI] Report?
The KRG has always addressed the issue of Transparency for Natural Resources. It is mentioned in the KRG Oil and Gas Law and is a key element of the GGTS. Following the release of the first EITI report on Iraq in 2011, we engaged with the World Bank [the entity that funds and provides the training for the EITI in Iraq] and expressed our desire to be a part of the process. However, we also wanted to have a separate chapter in the report since our contracts are different: we have Production Sharing Agreements whereas Baghdad has Technical Service Agreements. There are other technical differences as well.

We have been working closely with the Ministry of Natural Resources, the World Bank, the EITI, and the team in Baghdad to develop this chapter. It was agreed by all parties that the KRG would have a separate chapter in the next report. Under immense time constraints, we produced the chapter and all relevant groups approved it. However, this chapter vanished during the launch process. It seems that the report became highly politicized in Baghdad and the chapter was removed. We are still waiting for the official response from the EITI. The KRG’s press release about this issue can be found on the KRG website, as can the KRG-specific chapter from the report.